BEIRUT, Lebanon — A car bomb in Beirut last month was affirmation that, most often, internal events in Lebanon are orchestrated by powers outside the country's borders.
Marwan Hamadeh survived, but his driver was killed and his bodyguard injured in the blast. Hamadeh is one of four Lebanese ministers who resigned in protest over the Syrian-maneuvered constitutional amendment to extend the term of Lebanon's president, Emile Lahoud, considered a “puppet” of Syria by his Lebanese critics.
Lebanon's subservience to Syria, a constant source of anxiety among the Lebanese, received long-awaited international attention when the United Nations issued Resolution 1559 in September. The resolution, sponsored by the United States and France, calls for Lebanese presidential elections to be free of foreign interference and seeks the withdrawal of all foreign troops in the country and the disbanding of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias — referring to Syrian-supported Hezbollah as well as armed Palestinians in refugee camps in Lebanon.
However, the resolution failed to halt the political maneuvering that resulted in the amendment to keep Lahoud in power.
“Syria is capable of ordering whoever it wants in any official position in Lebanon,” said Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, who is especially outspoken about the need for Lebanon to regain its sovereignty. Maronite Catholics are the largest denomination among Lebanese Christians, who constitute about 40% of Lebanon's 3.8 million people.
Lahoud's rise to the presidency took the country by surprise in 1998, when Syria called for a constitutional change allowing him to run when he was not eligible for the office.
“President Lahoud is only a Syrian instrument in Lebanon, like a Syrian high commissioner,” said former Lebanese president Amin Gemayel, who returned to Lebanon in 2000 after eight years of exile in France. “His raison d'etre — the Syrian presence, the Syrian policy, the Syrian heresies — that's all. Now with Resolution 1559, this has become an international recognition.”
Gemayel, a Maronite Catholic, is one of 25 members of the Qournet Shehwan Gathering, a Christian opposition group in Lebanon committed to national dialogue.“Syria has a very old dream, which is to annex Lebanon,” Gemayel said. “Lebanon used to be a model of democracy in the Middle East. Syria has been trying to destroy it by destabilizing the national institutions and destroying the Lebanese traditions of freedom, democracy and harmonious coexistence.”
“If there is a place in the Arab world where you can promote democracy and human rights, and where you can have a competitive political process, it is Lebanon,” said political analyst Farid el Khazen. “This is the only country, at least before the war (of 1975-1989), where all the communities — Christian, Muslim, Sunni and Shiite — had the freedom of worship and were free to engage in the political process. This is the only Arab country where you don't have to start from scratch.”
With Resolution 1559, “Lebanon is no more forgotten by the world,” said Samir Abdel-Malak, secretary of the Qornet Shehwan Gathering. “It will be a part of the solution for the whole region. This resolution, in other words, is the practical application of the Taif Accord.” That 1989 accord ended Lebanon's civil war, which began in 1975.Part of the 1989 agreement was for Syrian troops to leave Lebanon two years later. Fifteen years later, 17,000 Syrian troops remain; 3,000 were redeployed shortly after the resolution was issued.
“Today, everybody knows that the final say in Lebanon is not for the Lebanese, but for the Syrians … We frankly say it: Syria alone is to account for what has been going on in Lebanon, since it entered into Lebanon in 1976 as if it were a Syrian province,” the Maronite Council of Bishops, led by Patriarch Sfeir, said in a Sept. 1 statement.
In the statement, the bishops cited 11 reasons for despair among the Lebanese, including an “excessive” national debt now totaling $40 billion, “bribery practiced in all official offices” and “a shut-off horizon” for Lebanese youth who are forced to emigrate to seek jobs, which in turn “impoverishes the homeland by draining away intellectual capacities.” They also cited “rampant corruption,” “unlimited squandering of public money” and “rampant poverty.”
However, the Maronite bishops stressed, “the reasons for hope are still great in spite of all the confusing appearances, repulsive despotic acts and oppressive practices. The source of our hope springs out of our faith in God, justice of our cause — and the lessons learned from our history.”
In a speech in Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad condemned Resolution 1559, referring to it as a “mistake.” Said Assad, “Nowadays, people are living in a state of chaos, of wrong concepts and false idioms, which increase division among cultures and prepare for further wars and bloodshed.”
In a follow-up report to Resolution 1559, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan concluded that Syria was not in compliance with the resolution's demand to pull its troops from Lebanon.
Despite the U.N. actions and pressure by the U.S. and French governments on Syria and the existing Lebanese government, Syria again prevailed, appointing a Lebanese cabinet that suits its needs. Newly appointed Interior Minister Sleimin Franjieh openly declared on national television that he “will do whatever Syria asks me to do.”
President Lahoud is scheduled to be sworn in for a new term Nov. 24.
The new prime minister, Rachid Karame, approached the Qornet Chewan Gathering to participate in the new cabinet, but the Christian group refused to be part of a Syrian-dominated governing body.
Syria has had a “systematic policy to destroy the morale of the Lebanese people, especially the Christians,” Abdel-Malak said. “Our role in the Qornet Shehwan Gathering — and with the patriarch and the Church — is to restore the hope of the Lebanese. Not just for Christians, but for all.”
Added Abdel-Malak, “Lebanon has a role — and even when the Pope came to Lebanon, he called it a mission — to be an example of the confidence between the Islamic world and the Christian world.”
Doreen Abi Raad Writes from Bikfaya, Lebanon,